Mormon Church Faces Lawsuit Over Sexual Abuse of Navajo Foster Children


Two siblings say a foster program that placed Native American children with white Mormon families failed to intervene and stop years of alleged abuse.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did nothing to protect two Navajo children from sexual abuse in the 1970’s and early 1980’s while they were enrolled in a program to convert and assimilate Native American students, according to a lawsuit filed in Navajo Nation District Court last week.

The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified damages, as well as a letter of apology to them and to the entire Navajo Nation; a change in church policy requiring church members to report charges of sexual abuse to the police; and the creation of a task force that would help to restore the Navajo culture that some participants say the program effectively erased.

Now-adult siblings RJ and MM—The Daily Beast does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse—left their home on a reservation in Sawmill, Arizona at ages 10 and 11, respectively, to be part of the Mormon church’s Indian Student Placement Program, a controversial voluntary foster care initiative that baptized some 40,000 children between 1947 and 2000 and brought them to live with white, Mormon families during the school year.

During his year in the program, RJ says he was sporadically sexually molested by members of his foster family. When he told an LDS Social Services caseworker—a paid employee tasked with overseeing the safety and well-being of Native children in their new homes—RJ was moved to another foster family. But the alleged abuse continued, both for him and for his older sister, MM. According to the complaint, MM was raped by a friend of her foster family and later molested by her foster father.

No criminal charges were filed at the time, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys.

The LDS Church did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. In a statement released last week, it said: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and works actively to prevent abuse. The Church will examine the allegations and respond appropriately.”

Yet the complaint alleges that the Mormon church “failed to take reasonable steps and failed to implement reasonable safeguards to avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct in the future by certain foster family members.” Furthermore, it says the church had no system in place or procedure to supervise employees and volunteers to ensure the children’s safety.

In fact, the LDS Social Services was inadequately staffed, according to a report in Indian Country Today, which reported that in 1966 there were only 19 caseworkers for 1,569 Native students in the program.

“Some students were on the program for years and never saw one,” Brigham Young University professor Jessie Embry told a reporter.

“It’s more than just the sexual abuse, it’s the cultural harm,” the siblings’ attorney, Craig Vernon, told The Daily Beast.

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SOURCE: Brandy Zadrozny
The Daily Beast